Monday, July 24, 2006

What's in a Name?

We have a phrase around our house this summer: "Who's the mama?" It has been a real balancing act helping the children understand their roles in our newly adjusted family. My four want to teach Kristina the do's and don'ts of our household. But an 11 year old can only hear "nyet" so many times from another 11 year old before hard feelings start to develop. And Kristina, in her enthusiasm for learning the rules, religiously reminds the other four to "brush your teeth", "put on your seat belt", "make your bed". And you can imagine how well that goes over with the others. So in an attempt to preserve the growing relationship between the five, I have added a new rule to our household list: Only the mama may correct behavior. Its been working pretty well. When one of the children forgets and attempts to discipline one of the others, I will remind them, "Who's the mama?"

When Kristina first came here in June, she would call me Mama. I would lightheartedly remind her that I was "Leslie". She continued to call me mama and I consistently reminded her that I was Leslie. Once in a while she involuntarily calls me Mama, but more often she refers to me by my first name. Mr & Mrs. are titles that don't translate in Russian, so it was easier to let her call me what she had called me when I first met her at the orphanage.

During the first week of her visit, we went to the Central Florida Zoo. Robert noticed that a family standing next to a nearby exhibit was speaking what he thought was Russian, so he proceeded to strike up a conversation with the complete strangers. For those of you who know Robert, that is COMPLETELY out of character for my reserved husband. But his bet was right and the family he chatted with were in fact from Russia. He asked if they would interpret a few things for him. As they spoke, the mother asked me what circumstances had led to Kristina coming all the way from Ukraine to Florida to be with us. I gave her the short version of our relationship. The mom asked Kristina some things in Russian and Kristina replied unhesitatingly to each of her questions. When they were done, she turned to me and told me some of what Kristina had said.
Q. Where is your mother?
A. She is standing here with me.
Q. Aren't your parents in Ukraine?
A. I had a family once in Ukraine, but my family is here in America. This is my father and my mother. We are a family now.

I have been very careful to guard Kristina's heart during this process. I don't make her any promises. I know that even if we had the resources to adopt her, things are more complicated than deciding whether or not to adopt. There are a string of people between us and her that must give their consent. It only takes one director or judge to say "no". There are no avenues of recourse in Ukraine; a dead end is a dead end. Many adoptions happen without a problem, but I cannot promise her what I cannot guarantee.

This weekend Kristina made the mistake of correcting one of the kids and I reminded her, "Who's the mama?" Through tear filled eyes, she responded, "I don't know. You say you are not my mama." And there it was. She was confronting me on the title that I have avoided since she arrived. I didn't know how to respond. How do you explain something so complicated to an 11 year old? But at the same time, I know her heart needed to know that someone would chase after her regardless of who stood in the way. So I did what I could. I held her. I cried with her. I reminded her that I loved her and would always love her. So the question remains, "Who's the mama?"

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